Big Agency Myths
Ahh, putting your brand’s account up for an agency review. Truly, one of the greatest adventures in modern business culture. I know, because, I’ve been in agency pitches for many of the world’s biggest brands, and have felt the thrill of victory (and the agony of defeat) quite a few times. I learned a few lessons along the way, and i’m going to share some time tested truths that might save you a few million dollars, your reputation, and maybe even your job.
Myth 1: The People that Pitch You are the People You get
You’ve arrived at their downtown loft offices. In marches the senior leadership, the italian suits, the swiss watches, stylish assistants, tattooed art directors, charismatic creative directors, and witty copywriters, hosting you in their state of the art conference room, regaling you with epic tales of triumph and the untold riches they’ve made for their clients, leaving you all hot and bothered and breathless. Whew, I’m kind feeling it myself You, my friend, been treated to a performance by the “Pitch Team” and unless your brand is a very big fish, it’s highly unlikely they will be your team. Honestly, you should record iPhone videos of this full cast of characters, because if you actually hire a big agency, it’s very unlikely you’ll ever all be gathered in the same room again unless you go to their Christmas party. A couple of minutes after the ink on the contract dries, it’s exit the senior A Team, enter the mostly junior B Team. That doesn’t mean they’re a bad team, it just means they aren’t the same.
Branding executive beware. Myth 2: Big Brands need big agencies.
It’s easy to be awestruck by big agencies—it’s a bit like standing on a dock and watching a big cruise ship pull into port: "My God, behold all the magnificence that is mine, mine, mine . . . . when in reality, that big hulking beauty isn’t yours, unless you are a global conglomerate. The reality is, on average, 5-7 people will be your core team on a weekly basis, and you could fit them in a rowboat.
What big brands need aren’t big agencies, what all brands large and small need, are big ideas. And there simply is no correlation between big agencies and big ideas. The best tasting, most progressive food isn’t coming out of The Olive Garden, and the biggest ideas in branding aren’t coming out of big agencies—they’re coming from smaller agencies working on contender brands, and it’s those big ideas that will propel those brands to become tomorrow’s dominant brands. Too often large brands are more concerned about protecting their established equity than they are about growing it and evolving their brand’s relevance and perception—too safe thinking that works to their detriment. Stay hungry my big brand friends—consumer trends are moving and changing faster than ever before and if you aren’t keeping pace the road ahead will become shorter, quickly
Keep in mind you can always scale a big idea by adding more people to a small agency team—that’s a relatively easy task, but simply having a big agency team doesn’t ensure you’ll ever land a big idea that can affect your brand’s destiny.
Bottom line: When interviewing a branding agency, don’t overweight headcount in your analysis—instead of focusing on how many people they have on their staff—ask them to show you their biggest ideas—that’s where the money is
Myth 3: The work you see is the kind of work you’ll get There is an enormous amount of turnover in branding agencies—especially within the creative departments of big ones, so there’s a pretty high likelihood that the creative team who crafted the campaign you love—the one that made the agency famous three years ago, is either: A) No longer at the agency, B) Assigned to another account within the agency and not available to you C) They’ve been rewarded for their success and have been moved off the creative front lines and up into management, where they direct the process rather than being an active cog in it
Ask to see the specific creative team who’ll be assigned to your account, and look at their work, because that’s what you’re going to get.
You aren’t buying an agency’s history, you’re buying their present.
Myth 4: Big Agencies are slow, but great work takes a long time to produce
Hear that? that’s the sound of someone reaching into your wallet
There is a minimum amount of time required to create excellent work but it’s usually possible in a shorter timeline, sometimes significantly shorter than large agencies typically ask for. Remember: the longer an agency takes to get your branding in front of your audience, the more billable hours applied against your retainer—money that could have been used to create add’l creative executions, purchase add’l media, or pursue higher production values. If you’re a start up, rewind this video and listen to this paragraph again because it directly applies to your burn rate—the only way you can get into profitability is to launch, and you can’t launch without a brand. No one knows time is money better than the CEO of a startup with a five or six-figure monthly burn rate
High quality strategy and creative at high speed is the new holy grail. Get yourself some of that
Myth 5: Chemistry isn’t Everything
Great agency/client relationships are the most fertile soil for great branding. Accept no substitutes. A small team that shares great chemistry with you will out work, out think, and out compete a large team that lacks it almost every time. Chemistry combined with capability is everything, and can fuel extraordinary achievement, but poor chemistry can sabotage your biggest ambitions and lead to lots of stress, grind progress to a snails pace, and if it’s really bad, you’ll miss major deadlines and objectives. And guess who everyone in the conference room will be looking at when that happens. You. You’re going to be in the trenches with your brand agency. Make sure you communicate well, it’s important you actually like them
and trust and respect them: relational rocke t fuel t propels greatness. Wherever you find a great relationship, big agency or small, grab it. But if you checked off the all the boxes
except the chemistry one, grab your purse ( or wallet and run Forrest run) you’re setting yourself up for failure. Trust me on this one, a friend told me a story about it.
OK, that’s all 5.
Finally, I want you to ask yourself a hard question. Knowing that the tenure of Chief Marketing Officers, specifically, and marketing executives in general have the shortest tenure in the C-Suite—knowing that you are under enormous pressure to deliver measurable results quickly . . . knowing all of that, answer me this: Are you in this game to look good or to win? You and I both know It’s easy to look good, at least at the beginning—that can be bought—you can name drop your big agency and win some quick cred. But winning? that’s another thing altogether, winning has to be earned and labored for. You can’t just put money in a big agency’s coin slot and get winning work. And I truly believe for most brands having a kickass smaller agency will give you the best odds for creating success, and keeping and elevating your leadership position for years to come. QV: Brand to Win.